Wuhan’s coronavirus
DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - January 31, 2020 - 12:00am

We don’t really know for sure if this deadly coronavirus is a product of natural evolution or was manufactured as part of a country’s biological war arsenal that had gone wrong. But here it is, a serious threat to mankind.

For the third time this century, The New York Times pointed out, a new strain of coronavirus, a family of pathogens that cause respiratory illness in birds and mammals, has jumped species and infected humans.

We seem to know more about this virus than previous ones. Its genetic code had been determined. And we know it spreads faster than the SARS and other similar viruses that plagued the earth some years back.

Microbes and viruses have been thriving and mutating in our environment since time began. Until modern medicine, pandemics caused by uncontrolled microorganisms and viruses were facts of life. The 1918 Flu pandemic, for instance.

Modern medicine brought penicillin and antibiotics and new ways of managing disease causing bacteria and viruses. But the battle is a continuing one.

Lately, a new generation of so-called superbugs has emerged for which available cures have little or no effect. Modern medicine has not been producing new antibiotics fast enough to deal with the mutating superbugs.

Viruses are in a different class. Viral diseases cannot be treated by antibiotics, something we all know every time we catch a cold or go down with the flu. Doctors can only manage the progression of the disease in our body making sure we will outlast its life cycle.

Vaccines have been developed to give us immunity to diseases including viral infections. But misinformation has caused many to distrust vaccines. That explains why we now have a resurgence of diseases we thought we have effectively controlled like polio and measles.

But this Wuhan coronavirus seems different. It mutates very fast, making it more difficult to address. And its victims often show little or no symptoms during its incubation period of one to two weeks, making it easy for other people to be infected.

The most common way of getting infected is by droplets in the air from sneezing and coughing, touching things in public, shaking hands, beso beso. A face mask and frequent hand washing should help. The virus can only live on your hands for 5-10 mins, but a lot can happen in those 5-10 mins (you can rub your eyes or pick your nose unwittingly).

According to The New York Times, the Wuhan coronavirus “is thought to be less lethal than both SARS and MERS, the last zoonotic coronavirus to infect humans, in 2012. And the vast majority of confirmed cases remain in mainland China…”

The good news is that a vaccine is said to have been developed. But using it in the current outbreak is not possible. Testing for efficacy and safety will take time.

There is still a lot we do not know about this Wuhan coronavirus. The only way we can control it at this time is to prevent infection as best as we can.

For now, we can only isolate victims of the Wuhan coronavirus and put those known to have contact with them in quarantine. That’s why the DOH ordered Filipinos returning home from China to be quarantined for two weeks.

But why did DOH clear a boatload of Chinese tourists on a cruise ship to disembark? And why the hesitance of Duterte and the DOH to stop direct flights to and from China when other countries have already done that?

To prevent the further spread of the disease, isolating cities, a draconian measure taken by China, is called for. High speed trains and airplanes make it easy for the virus to spread worldwide within days.

In the 1918 Flu pandemic, victims died within days of developing symptoms. Their lungs filled with fluid that caused them to suffocate. It is estimated that about 50 million people died and a total of 500 million people or one-third of the world’s population were infected with this virus.

A National Geographic article points out that “new research is placing the flu’s emergence to the shipment of Chinese laborers across Canada in sealed train cars.

“Historian Mark Humphries of Canada’s Memorial University of Newfoundland says that newly unearthed records confirm that —the mobilization of 96,000 Chinese laborers to work behind the British and French lines on World War I’s Western Front—may have been the source of the pandemic…

“Historian Christopher Langford has shown that China suffered a lower mortality rate from the Spanish flu than other nations did, suggesting some immunity was at large in the population because of earlier exposure to the virus…

“In the new report, Humphries finds archival evidence that a respiratory illness that struck northern China in November 1917 was identified a year later by Chinese health officials as identical to the Spanish flu.

“He also found medical records indicating that more than 3,000 of the 25,000 Chinese Labor Corps workers who were transported across Canada en route to Europe starting in 1917 ended up in medical quarantine, many with flu-like symptoms.”

(https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/1/140123-spanish-flu-1918-china-origins-pandemic-science-health/)

 One other worrisome thing about the Wuhan coronavirus, the New York Times reports, is the possibility it could also threaten the global supply chain of pharmaceuticals.

“Roughly 80 percent of active ingredients used by commercial sources to produce finished medicines come from China. Most ingredient production occurs several hundred miles east of Wuhan, but it’s not hard to imagine the virus and the quarantine spreading in that direction, bringing with them the possibility of shortages.”

But pandemics are nothing new. It shows man has not been able to take better control of natural forces. Modern science may have accomplished quite a bit but more work has to be done.

The ordinary seasonal flu kills roughly 35,000 Americans every year. This season, it has already sickened an estimated 15 million Americans and killed 8,200, according to estimates of the US Center for Disease Control.

Given that perspective, the Wuhan coronavirus is still a cause for concern but appears less deadly.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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